Robert Falk’s solo exhibitions. AN OVERVIEW OF 1924-1969
The major exhibition of works by Robert Falk in the New Tretyakov Gallery at Krymsky Val was an event long awaited by all connoisseurs of the Master’s works. It marked the 135th year of the artist’s birth and it was much more representative of his work than any of his exhibitions held over the past three decades. In terms of the showcased material, it may, in many respects, be compared with another significant exhibition of Falk’s works, which was held from February to March, 1993, in the halls of the Benois Building of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. In terms of the artist’s Moscow retrospectives, the current exhibition’s forerunner is an exhibit- ion, rather sensational and grandiose for its time, which was held at the hall of the Moscow Union of Artists in Begovaya Street (this story awaits the reader ahead).
In 2021, in the halls of the Tretyakov gallery, the viewers will be given the unique opportunity of seeing more than 200 of the artist's works: more than 100 paintings, about 90 graphic sheets and 10 decorative items and theatre props that were brought together for this exhibition. Falk could not separate his own existence from that of his art, to which he gave 55 years of his life: one of his very first works - the oil sketch “A Girl" (Tretyakov Gallery) dates back to 1903. His last were portrait sketches of the man next to him in the hospital ward, which he drew in pencil in the year of his death. The exhibition presents the main stages of the artist's creative development in chronological order, allowing one to follow closely Falk's continuous searching and his dynamism, as well as the growth of his mastery.
ROBERT FALK. Nude in an Armchair. 1922–1923
Oil on canvas. 103.5 × 111.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery
Falk's creative evolution reflects, to various extents, almost all trends of Russian art of the first half of the 20th century - namely, Impressionism, Fauvism, Neo-primitivism, Cezannism, Expressionism, “pictorial realism" (Falk's own definition). The sections of the exhibition were designated in accordance with these creative periods: “The Beginning. 1905-1909", “‘Knave of Diamonds', 1910-1916", “Around ‘The Red Furniture'. 1917-1921", “Back to the Old Masters. 1922-1927", “The Parisian period. 1928-1937", “Back to the USSR: Crimea (1938), Samarkand (1938, 1942-1943)", “The Late period. 1944-1958". Both paintings and graphic works are showcased in each of the periods.
The Tretyakov Gallery possesses a large monographic collection of Falk's works, including more than 150 paintings and graphical works, with about 60 of them included in the exhibition. In addition to the works belonging to the State Tretyakov Gallery, the exhibition presented works from the collections of four museums in Moscow (the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, the State Literary Museum, the State Museum of the East, the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum), about 35 works by Falk provided by the Russian Museum, about 25 paintings from 12 regional museums in Russia, as well as two paintings from the National Gallery of Armenia in Yerevan. Along with museum items, the show included works by the artist from private collections in Moscow (the collections of Igor Sanovich, Vladimir Nekrasov, Yuri Nosov, and so on), St. Petersburg (the collection of Valentin Shuster) and Liechtenstein (the Sepherot Foundation, Switzerland). It took decades for the need for a representative Falk retrospective to take shape. Dmitri Sarabianov who has authored two monographs about the artist, wrote in the late 1990s that Falk “long ago - during his lifetime - took the place of a classic in the history of 20th-century art. As of today, this title is irrevocable. There have been, however, periods when Falk was an “out-of-favour classic" He hardly ever exhibited in the postwar years, even though he was engrossed in selfless work at the time. Five years after Falk's death, his name started raising even more suspicions when, at the exhibition titled “30 Years of the Moscow Union of Artists," his works enraged party and government authorities, incited by the heads of the Academy of Arts against the so-called formalists. The strife around Falk continued in the 1960s, which saw two of his major retrospective exhibitions - one in Yerevan (in 1965) and the other in Moscow (in 1966). The guardians of the unshakable traditions of the 1930s-1950s saw Falk as their destroyer and went to great lengths to try to alienate the artist's heritage from Soviet art. But it was too late. Once thrown by two colliding waves onto one of the hottest spots of the artistic realm of the 1960s, Falk left a unique mark on its surface."
As we now turn to the almost 100-year history of the artist's solo exhibitions, we will consider only the most significant of them in order to trace how the public recognition of his work was shaped and how the audience's interest in his works changed over time.
It is noteworthy that Falk's first solo exhibition was held at the Tretyakov Gallery almost a century ago, in the spring of 1924. Falk was a figure of great authority at the time. Actively involved with the artistic society known as the “Knave of Diamonds" (or “Jack of Diamonds"), which he had co-founded, he was also a renowned educator, in his role as professor of the easel-painting workshop of the painting faculty of Higher Art and Technical Studios (VKHUTEMAS). The exhibition's curator, Victor Midler, a senior curator at the Department of Contemporary Painting of the Tretyakov Gallery, sought to present the artist's work “for review with almost exhaustive, sometimes even excessive, fullness" in order to be “able to assess and judge the public perception of Falk's work as it has been shaped thus far." As the curator noted in the exhibition's supporting material, “Taking into account Falk's 20-year career as an artist and the place that he occupies in contemporary Russian painting, as well as the opportunities we now have for evaluating as a whole the constellation of Moscow painters known as the “Knave of Diamonds", of which Falk is one of the most prominent representatives, the exhibition is structured in the form of a retrospective." According to the catalogue, 88 paintings and 23 graphic works (in pencil and watercolors) were exhibited in the halls of the Tretyakov Gallery. In “a chronological and pictorial-evolutionary sequence, year by year", “in more or less clear and characteristic samples," these works represented the result of 20 years of Falk's work - namely, from the year of 1904 to March 1924. “The artist traced a circular path, starting out in 1904 with the Union of Russian Artists, passing through a lyric-realistic period similar in its type to Zhukovsky, Yuon and others, subsequently continuing to the stage of Impressionism in its Russian refraction (Tarkhov, Grabar, etc.) and, later, in 1911-12 to 1920-21, deviating sharply, together with his colleagues in both work and exhibitions, towards an interpretation of the “post-impressionist" and “cubist" study of the modern West - mainly the French - in the realm of shape and colour, in which he followed Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Cezanne and Derain; thus, the circle reached its logical conclusion. Starting from the period 22-23, we see works echoing the starting points of that movement, but at the same time complicated by experience and culture, obtained through serious, persistent and even extremely strenuous work. The latter emphasises and characterises the individual image of the artist. It is no accident that the first and last of the aforementioned periods are represented in close proximity to each other on the exhibition's walls."
Falk, aged 37 at the time, was satisfied with the exhibition, a feeling he communicated in a letter to his friend, the writer and philosopher Sergei Durylin: “My exhibition closed a long time ago. The media covered it only briefly. Critics avoid talking about painting that reacts poorly to contemporary themes. I myself am very glad to have arranged an exhibition; it is very important to see for oneself your own progress over 20 years showcased in a good room."
The next two monographic displays of Falk's works were held between the years 1927 and 1929 and covered short time periods. The exhibition organised at the Central House of Scientists (TSEKUBU) in 1927 included 75 works created between 1921 and 1926. “The works exhibited by Falk (at the House of Scientists) over the past six years provide a retrospective overview of the work of this most thoughtful, but also the gloomiest, representative of the “Knave of Diamonds". Deeply absorbed in the problem of colour, Falk has always been a very sharp, but, at the same time, very balanced analyst, who did not trust the brightness of objects, as if extinguishing their tones with his severely concentrated perception."
At his exhibition held at the Galerie Zak in Paris from March 15 to 31 in 1929, less than a year after his arrival in Paris, the artist showed, according to the catalogue, only 25 paintings, created in Russia from 1917 to 1928. Falk reported on the success of the exhibition in his letters home: “Many papers published their reviews <...> Vollard [Ambroise Vollard], a famous collector of paintings, was in attendance. It was he who made Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso and others popular. He said a lot of flattering things to me and invited me to his home to show me his gallery. This is considered a great honour here."
Falk's second Paris exhibition, held from January 22 to February 6, 1937, at Galerie Bonaparte, was significantly larger in terms of the number of works showcased (86 oil and gouache works), but its exact set-up is unknown, as no catalogue has been found. It is known that, returning from Paris in 1937, Falk brought with him to the USSR a significant number of canvases and drawings he had created in France. The artist's widow, Angelina Shchekin-Krotova, wrote that he “knew that he could be arrested, but he said that at least his works would remain in his homeland. Falk was not arrested. Even the monstrous engine of Stalinism could sometimes misfire. No one ever bothered Falk. But no one needed his paintings either - he had a very insecure reputation at that time. Only two small exhibitions were held - one at the [Central House of Writers], where we met, and the other, in 1939 at the [Central House of Arts]."
In the spring of 1939, Falk wrote in a note to Aleksander Gerasimov, the head of the Union of Artists, about the scope of what he had created during his years in Paris, emphasising the need for openly showcasing those works: “Dear Aleksander Mikhailovich, I appeal to you for assistance as the chairman of the Moscow Regional Union of Soviet Artists (the MOSSKh) in organising my individual open exhibition. While in Paris, I created more than 250 works on canvas that I brought here with me. Of them, 65 are figure items, 130 are landscapes, and the rest genre paintings and still-lifes. In addition to oil paintings, I have more than 400 gouache works and large drawings. You yourself understand, Aleksander Mikhailovich, that the small exhibition at the Writers' Club does not represent me as an artist. Besides, I am aware that wide circles of the artistic community are interested in getting a complete impression of my artistic activity. Yours, R. Falk 19 / IV 1939."
Apparently, Falk's appeal had an effect. A solo exhibition was opened on October 12, 1939, in the rooms of the Central House of Arts in Pushechnaya Street, 9, presenting 167 paintings and graphic works. It became a kind of creative account of the artist's protracted stint in France, including as it did works from across the 10 years spent there (1928-1937).
In addition to the works created while in Paris that constituted the basis of the exposition, his most recent paintings and drawings from 1938-1939 in the Crimea, Samarkand and Leningrad were showcased as well.
During the exhibition, namely, on November 27, 1939, an evening with Robert Falk was held in the Central House of Artists, featuring the participation of the art critic Mikhail Alpatov, the actor Solomon Mikhoels, and the artists Amshey Nurenberg, Pyotr Pokarzhevsky and Semyon Chuikov, among others. The ardent speech of the Hero of the Soviet Union, the famous pilot A.B. Yumashev in defense of the artist made a great impact: “I like Falk's paintings and see in them true top-quality Soviet paintings. Our Soviet state, our Soviet society are in need of such art. Many of Robert Rafailovich's former students present here have mentioned Falk's outstanding teaching abilities and his deep knowledge of painting. Sadly, today's art students do not have the opportunity of learning from Falk. Since his return from abroad, Robert Rafailovich has done less than he could have as his working conditions do not allow him to fulfill all of his plans; his working conditions are not what they should be. Our art organisations aren't paying enough attention to the work of the wonderful artist that Falk is. These organisations need to familiarise themselves with the transcript of today's discussion and draw the right conclusions, and proceed to create a normal working environment for Comrade Falk. (Applause)".
That exhibition in the autumn of 1939 was to be the penultimate show in the artist's life. Over the following two decades, he did not have the opportunity to officially display his works in the exhibition halls of Moscow, let alone in museums. Only in distant Samarkand, where he taught students from evacuated institutes and the Uzbek Art School during the war, did the local history museum house an exhibition showcasing 92 of his watercolors and gouaches in 1943. The art historian Nikolai Punin, who spoke at the exhibition's discussion, noted: “Falk is the greatest master of the modern Russian school. <...> Our exhibition is a gratifying phenomenon in the context of our art. Falk's work is notable for its characteristic picturesque element, its lyricism. <...> It amazes me how he has maintained through the years this full expression of inner lyrical experience, uncontaminated and unweakened. The lyrical realm is a rather difficult one. Many burn out before long. Falk triumphantly pours out the purity of his lyrically youthful feeling everywhere and over everything. He is nothing but wholesome."
Falk's long stay in Paris had undoubtedly affected the attitude towards him of those who ruled in the realm of culture in the postwar years. For them, he “became an unrecognised marginal. Moreover, the artist himself, would, under no circumstances, come anywhere near the officially approved art, continuing to perfect his own painting system."
Almost until the very end of Falk's life, the official path to the viewer was completely closed to him.
The story of the visit of cultural officials to Falk's studio, cited in the memoirs of the artist's last wife, Angelina Shchekin-Krotova, is indicative of this:
“I remember when Nikolai Sysoev17 and Vladimir Lebedev, representatives of the official arts bodies, turned up at our studio in the mid-1940s. Their visit came about on account of Falk's persistent requests that they pay some attention to the awful living conditions of his studio. We lived in a garret at the time, i.e. the attic of the renowned Pertsov House on the banks of the Moskva River. After the war, its bizarre, curly roof bore the marks of violent bombing. The ceilings leaked and fungus had appeared in the corners. It was so cold in the workshop that the walls were covered with ice. I was ill with pneumonia, dressed in my felt boots, a wadded jacket and had my head wrapped up in a thick scarf. Falk was working wearing a winter hat and coat.
Our guests stood in the middle of the room and looked around them in disgust. Falk brought some of his landscapes out of the workshop, which, he thought, would be quite accessible even to “socialist realists”.
I remember him putting a landscape on the easel, a painting of bright green grass, blue sky and a sparkling silver-birch trunk that captured beautifully the parting resonance of an autumn day. Lebedev, who at that time held the position of director of the Tretyakov Gallery, exclaimed, “Yes, Falk always wins with colour. What incredible colour, look at that!" But then Sysoev interrupted him, frowned menacingly and said, “It's not the colour that's important. This landscape is not Russian. Our birches are tall, even and slender. This birch is parochial, all bent and crooked." Falk left the room and I turned to the guests and said, “Goodbye. He won't be showing you any more."».
In the 1950s, the artist, by then rather elderly, repeatedly turned to the leadership of the Moscow Union of Artists with appeals for an exhibition. Thus, in 1954, he requested permission to exhibit in one of the halls at Kuznetsky Most, 11. Another, more detailed appeal written two years later - in 1956, the year of the artist's 70th birthday - full of bitter lines concerning those unfounded accusations which had become the reason for ignoring his work, contains a demand to give him, finally, the opportunity to acquaint the public with his work.
“TO THE PRESIDIUM OF THE BOARD OF THE MOSCOW ORGANISATION OF SOVIET ARTISTS. From the artist ROBERT FALK. PETITION Negotiations concerning an exhibition of my works have been long under way. The date of the exhibition has yet to be fixed. My request is that you determine these dates by the summer of 1957. My last solo exhibition was held in 1939. During the subsequent years, I was placed in conditions of social and artistic isolation by persons from the Academy of Arts whom you know very well, a completely unfounded accusation of “formalism" having served as a pretext to that. I regard this accusation as malicious slander and therefore demand that I be given the opportunity to exhibit my works in the most suitable conditions for their display. As of now, I have more than 1,000 paintings in my workshop in oils and gouache and, in addition to those, many drawings, theatrical sketches and models. I see Kuznetsky 11 as the only place fitting the purpose of showcasing at least a small portion of this work. I turned 70 this year. My health is weak and I would very much like to see my exhibition in my lifetime".
The next Moscow retrospective show of Falk's work was unofficial. In April and May of 1957, a small exhibition of his paintings was arranged at the apartment (Bryusov Lane, 8/10) of one of the artist's friends, the pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Shchekin-Krotova recalled it: “When, a year before the artist's death, an exhibition of Robert Rafailovich's works had yet again failed to materialise, Sviatoslav realised that Falk simply needed to see his paintings outside the studio setting. He offered his apartment on Nezhdanova Street for use as an exhibition hall. Seventeen paintings selected from those that Sviatoslav particularly liked were showcased by Richter on the walls of his small but spacious apartment. Richter did not like to clutter his home with unnecessary furniture. And in this case, everything was removed from the “showroom", except for the piano, armchairs and a sofa. Sviatoslav gave Robert Rafailovich the keys to his apartment and invited him to bring everyone he wanted to the exhibition at any time. Of course, Falk - a modest and delicate man - was very careful in using that permission, bringing only those closest to him there."
Only five months before Falk's death, his official solo exhibition was held, lasting from May 17 to 27, 1958, and becoming the maestro's last lifetime exhibition. It took place in the halls of the Moscow Union of Artists in Ermolaevsky Lane, 17 and included, according to the catalogue, 29 paintings and 28 works on paper. At that time, the 71-year-old artist, who had suffered a severe heart attack a year earlier, was in a clinic, but thanks to his wife's initiative, he still managed to see the exposition: Shchekin-Krotova briefly brought him to the exhibition directly from the hospital ward. The 10-day show of the master's work was semi-closed; it wasn't advertised anywhere. “That exhibition - a tiny one, and thoroughly sieved through - was held in the old building of the Moscow Union of Artists, when he was in the hospital, terminally ill. And soon after the exhibition, Falk was brought to the same dull premises of the Moscow Union of Artists - in a coffin," Ilya Ehrenburg wrote.
Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the poet Osip Mandelstam, who attended the exhibition, informed the artist in a letter: “There were rumours about the exhibition in the city - people didn't know how to get there, where to get passes, etc. It was an exhibition held “on the quiet". But still, people crowded in, confused and happy. The expectations many had at the ready did not match what they saw - they had come to look for abstract art as that is what is disparaged the most in our country, and they assumed that this was why it had to be secret. But everyone felt your tremendous power. Only they lacked the words to express it; I have seen such people. It would be good to have a public exhibition - it's high time... I am very happy for you, for your great success, for the powerful resonance of your creations. <...> Your eye and, in old-fashioned terms, heart and soul, are in their prime."
The letter written by the translator Tatiana Litvinova bears testimony of how important this display of his works was for understanding the master's work: “Dear Falk! <...> I have come to your exhibition five times. I didn't begin to love you any more after the exhibition, but it seemed to me that, somehow, your grandeur as an artist has become clear to me - something that is so difficult to understand in the studio. You seemed very big to me! I was amazed by the quiet seriousness of your canvases, no effects, no eagerness to please either the crowd or “subtle connoisseurs.".
Falk's fate as an artist took a surprising turn soon after his death. Four years after the artist passed away, in late 1962 - early 1963, during the famous exhibition in the Moscow Manege dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the Moscow Union of Artists, Falk's name was on everyone's lips. The art critic Vladimir Kostin, one of the organisers of the exhibition at the Manege, remembered almost 40 years later: “Many works were showcased. <...> However, from the very first days, the greatest sensation were <...> the exhibition's “hot spots" that attracted the visitors invariably, provoking disputes - especially around Falk's ‘Nude.' <...> In the eyes of the average people, this work was the one that acquired downright sensational popularity. An employee of the Moscow Union of Artists who was on duty at the exhibition told us of a large lady running up to her, flushed from standing in line for three hours out in the cold, and, gasping for breath, asked to quickly show her where the ‘Nude Valka' was - that was the name by which some viewers knew ‘Nude' by Falk. The employee of the Union of Artists said that she could read in that visitor's eyes a zealous desire to see, first and foremost, the famous, now known to everyone, ‘Valka', who was, among other things, nude. <...> The campaign against the exhibition was building up. On December 5, Boris Ioganson in his article in ‘Literaturnaya Gazeta' (The Literary Paper), said that the model for Falk's ‘Nude' had first bathed in oil and was then wiped off with a rag."
A “lyrical" commentary by Shchekin-Krotova to this scandalous picture is rather interesting. “It was Osipovich who sat for ‘Nude in an Armchair' (1922, Tretyakov Gallery), the famous life model, who served the world of art with unswerving devotion for many years.28 Osipovich first worked in the studios of Serov and Korovin. At that time, in the 1920s, the VKhUTEMAS studios were unheated. It was so cold that water would freeze indoors. The students and professors wore quilted jackets and felt boots, wrapped themselves in scarves and bashlyki (tall, pointed cloak-like hoods), while Osipovich sat naked for hours on end only slightly warmed by the flame of a small, cast-iron stove, which was fuelled by old books and logs that the students had dragged back from Belorussky Station. The only nude in the world at the time, she was awarded honorary title of the Hero of Socialist Labour by the Soviet regime for her unfailing contribution to art. Falk painted her in his studio as she sat beside the stove, which just about warmed the air on her one side, a bucket of coal placed on her other side. The red glow of the fire shone reflected on her legs. The sun's whimsical rays penetrated the freezing studio through the ice-covered windows, illuminating the model in playful spangles of soft winter light. She held the difficult pose with her arms raised for hours. In the painting, Osipovich has an imposing look; her body fills the entire canvas and even exaggerates her natural proportions, attributing to the figure a certain power and majesty, whereas, in life, she was a rather petite woman. Falk's students told me that she was an interesting model to paint. Her body was made of powerful rolls of flesh, her arms and legs were muscular and she was all different colours: her hands and feet a tanned brown, her full breast a blueish white, her back and shoulders swarthy. Her posture never belied a trace of tiredness or despondency; she radiated vitality. There is something epic, heroic even about ‘Nude in an Armchair.' The little armchair in which she sat is in my room now, old, fragile and elegant".
Another event significant for the future fate of Falk's legacy was the unprecedented retrospective of his works showcased in 1965 at the State Art Gallery of Armenia (now the National Gallery of Armenia) in Yerevan. This first posthumous monographic exhibition of Falk's works was initiated by the art critic Mary Sargsyan, who worked at the museum, with the active involvement of Shchekin-Krotova. The exhibition consisted entirely of works owned by the artist's family.
According to the catalogue, 51 paintings and 30 graphic works were exhibited, representing a half-century of the artist's career, from 1907 to 1957. After the exhibition closed, the museum acquired more than a dozen of the works it had showcased and was presented with three more, which enriched the museum's collection by a number of first-class works by the master. “When, several years before, all museums had removed Falk's works from their expositions, the Gallery's management had the courage to leave Falk's paintings on display and not strike his work from the books of the glorious history of Russian and Soviet art", Shchekin-Krotova wrote in a letter in 1965.
“The brief “thaw" of the 1960s helped in discovering the artists whose work had rarely been seen in official exhibitions before. Works of forgotten painters of the beginning of the century were now timidly crawling out of dark storerooms. That was how the recently deceased Falk arose, almost out of oblivion," the artist's widow said.
With active involvement on her part, in the second half of the 1960s, following the Yerevan show, several retrospectives of Falk's works were held in different cities of the Soviet Union: in Moscow (1966), Novosibirsk (1967), Tallinn (1967), and Alma-Ata (1969). The catalogues that accompanied almost all of them were compiled with the help of the artist's widow. As a bold initiative on the part of the curator Mikhail Makarenko, the exhibition of Falk's works held in 1967 in the picture gallery of the House of Scientists in Akademgorodok of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences in Novosibirsk is worth mentioning. According to its rotaprint catalogue, it showcased 134 works (102 paintings and 32 drawings). In July of the same year, another retrospective was opened at the State Art Museum of the Soviet Republic of Estonia in the building of the Kadriorg Palace in Tallinn. It was initiated by Inga Teder, who had become the museum's director a year earlier.
Two years later, in October 1969, the Taras Shevchenko Kazakh State Art Gallery in Alma-Aty hosted an exhibition entitled “Robert Rafailovich Falk", accompanied by a booklet listing 34 paintings and 15 graphic works covering the period from 1910 to 19 57. A rare photograph depicting the museum staff and the artist's widow (who had travelled from Moscow) with the exhibition in the background survives to this day.
Over time, the artist's widow distributed the pieces from Falk's workshop among museums, giving them away for free to any that couldn't afford to buy them. “Many reproach me, saying that I have squandered them all, but I am glad that people in different cities will have a chance to see Falk's paintings," Shchek- in-Krotova stated in an interview she gave in the final years of her life. “Museums wouldn't come anywhere near our house. Pushkarev, the Russian Museum director, was the first to have the courage to buy something by Falk. In secret, at the cheapest prices, he smuggled his works through the commission. And that was 15 years after Falk's death. During his lifetime, not a single museum bought any of his works. No, a museum in Frunze bought one, I believe. But someone reported it to Aleksander Gerasimov and he sent an indignant telegram there. I still cannot find that piece; it was obviously discarded. The paintings that the Art Fund acquired with the help of [Pyotr] Konchalovsky were also written off as unmarketable. In 1946, they were burned in the courtyard of the Art Fund. The wife of Andrei Yumashev, a famous pilot, bought her portrait for a ruble, giving it to the janitor, who poured kerosene over Falk's paintings."
One of the most memorable and grandiose events in the artistic life of Moscow in the mid 1960s was, undoubtedly, the solo exhibition of Falk's paintings organised by the Moscow Union of Artists in 1966 in the exhibition halls on Begovaya Street, 7/9 (it opened on October 22). “A Falk exhibition is a festive occasion for the Moscow intelligentsia!" wrote the artist Fyodor Semyonov-Amursky. For many viewers, a retrospective of the artist who had died eight years before was the first opportunity of seeing the works of the master labelled “cosmopolitan" and “formalist”. “I don't know what played the determining role there, Khrushchev or Ehrenburg's ‘People, Years, Life', but there was a huge queue to see the solo exhibition in the hall on the Begovaya line," Shchekin-Krotova recalled.
Most likely, it was both of these events (which happened close to each other in time): Nikita Khrushchev's irate criticism of Falk's paintings at the Moscow Manege exhibition held on December 1, 1962, and Ehrenburg's “thaw" book, published in 1963, which combined to prompt an enormous, genuine interest in the artist's works. The sources that most people learned about the artist from are evident from the questionnaires completed by those who attended the 1966 exhibition. To the first question: “Was Falk's name familiar to you before?" the viewers replied: “Yes, Falk's name is familiar to me because of Ehrenburg and then, the exhibition “The 30th Anniversary of the Moscow Union of Artists', as well as the ‘Balaklava' landscape painting from the State Tretyakov Gallery." “Yes. From the exhibition at the Manege. Scandalously familiar". “Yes, unfortunately, only thanks to the popularisation by Ehrenburg". “I learned of Falk from Ehrenburg's book; what he wrote about Falk was very memorable, although I had not seen a single picture before then". “Yes, his name is indeed familiar, especially due to the fuss made by art critics comrade Nikita Khrushev and comrade Ilyichev", “I learned about Falk about five years ago, from Ehrenburg's memoirs". “Yes, since that ‘rush of blood to the head' at the Moscow Union of Artists, namely, the idiotic persecution of the best painters by Nikita".
In Ilya Ehrenburg's book “People, Years, Life", a whole chapter - the 13th (in volume 4) is devoted to Falk. Shchekin-Krotova wrote about the role of these memories: “Ehrenburg's book made Falk's name popular. Many became interested in Falk's works through getting their first impression about him from Ehrenburg. ...When, in 1966, after Falk's death, a large exhibition of his works was finally held in Moscow, in the building of the Moscow Union of Artists on Begovaya, Ehrenburg came to the grand opening, walked quietly about with the crowd of visitors that filled the narrow halls to capacity, and paused to stand in front of each work. For Falk's next exhibition, in Academgorodok in Siberia [in 1967], Ehrenburg wrote a preface to the catalogue. It ends with the words: ‘Falk's canvases have become necessary for many, like air, like bread, like water. I greatly admire his feat'."
The poet Boris Slutsky, the author of the piercing poem about Falk titled “Old Blue", responded to the exhibition with an article: “In one day, 6,000 people attended the exhibition of works by the artist Falk. Considering that Begovaya Street in Moscow where the exhibition is located, is, in fact, a roundabout street where advertising is very poorly placed, such a number of visitors speaks of its great success. Angelina Vasilievna, Falk's widow, who preserved his artistic heritage and tirelessly promoted his work, has already lost count of the excursions that she has had to accompany about the halls of the exhibition. From time to time, she interrupts her own explanation and shouts: “Watch out! Take care! Be aware of the paintings!" The flow of people is so big that there's danger of someone accidentally catching on the pictures on the walls and dragging them after themselves."
In the opinion of one of the ladies attending, “the exhibition made a better impression than expected. But one thing is certain - the old people (and there are many of them here) came to remember their youth and the young to see for themselves why Falk was so severely criticised." According to eyewitnesses, on frosty days, the exhibition was real pandemonium. People began queueing outside the exhibition halls of the Moscow Union of Artists in Begovaya, 7/9, from the small hours and, as Dmitri Sarabianov recalled, fires were lit in the street for the people in the line to warm themselves on. The artist's widow recalled a curious episode about the atmosphere of the exhibition: “There was a very amusing elderly employee at the entrance and he shared with me with evident satisfaction: ‘You know, I feel that people need me. Let 20 people in, persuade the rest to wait, begging for order. Formerly, I'd sit here for days on end without anyone ever coming'."
The writer Varlam Shalamov, who made several visits to the exhibition, wrote in his notebook: “October 22, 1966. Falk. Met Ehrenburg. Banquet. October 26, 1966. Falk's exhibition - crowded. Passing by yesterday, I saw only a handful of young people there. It turns out that yesterday was Tuesday and, today, the house is full. A[ngelina] V[asilievna] is lively and cheerful. 160 paintings are on display; they will have more brought from Leningrad. <...> In total, Falk created more than 2,000 works - he did not sell many, they are all in Russia. His early works are the best - ones from the 1910s and the 20s. “A Woman in White", “The Red Furniture", but “Streets of Paris" is also good. A [ngelina] V[asilievna] said: “The exhibition seems to me such a miracle that I think, as this has happened, why shouldn't Falk be resurrected?"
Another surviving testimony is found in the diaries of the writer Dmitri Golubkov: “November 1966. Today is Falk's exhibition on Begovaya. A long queue. The place is crowded. Excellent works - it is difficult to list all the masterpieces. Especially “The Fence", “An Open Window" (green-blue), “Paper Flowers”, a young self-portrait, a model lying down, etc... “
The art critic Elena Murina , who, together with the Leningrad artist Aleksander Pasternak, helped Shchekin-Krotova to arrange the exposition on Begovaya, reminisced in a recent interview: “We hung the paintings for this exhibition together, all the time discussing the details, which works would be next to each other and all that. It was sheer happiness; it was all so interesting. While we were preparing the exhibition, people were already walking inside, some artists managed to get in and were taking a look. Of course, for many, it was their first time seeing it all - and how much they liked it! I just remember that Kuper came, along with another young man from that set (I can't recall his surname now); they strolled about and I just heard him say: “This is simply too beautiful..." “And then, the queues along Begovaya Street stretching for several blocks. The exhibition lasted quite a while, I'm not sure for how long, a month, perhaps. They couldn't wrap it up - people kept coming. This was already after the Manege, where our leaders glorified Falk, in their ignorance raving at that very ‘Nude' by Falk that was later nicknamed ‘the nude Valka.' It was so famous all over the Soviet Union - from newspapers and other sources - that people kept coming, even those who knew nothing about fine arts. That scandal earned Falk a nationwide popularity".
Falk's 1966 exhibition at Begovaya Street “took Moscow by storm". As Moses Kunin, one of Falk's students, noted after the exhibition, “now, it will be impossible to doom the Great Artist to oblivion." He couldn't have been more right. Starting from the second half of the 1960s, Falk's selected works would be exhibited not only in the USSR, but also abroad. In 1967, Shchekin- Krotova said in a letter: “My portrait in a white shawl went to an exhibition of Soviet art in Paris, along with some of the other works. Falk was also taken to Tokyo and to Prague. Seems we are slowly earning a name among the Soviet classics, eh?"
Another surge of interest in the work of the artist, or, in the words of his widow, “the Falk trend”, happened in the mid 1970s. In the summer of 1975, Shchekin-Krotova wrote in a letter to her student Dina Zolotarevskaya: “Life's not even letting me catch my breath and time slips like water through my fingers. I'm supposed to be working on my book, but I'm doing something entirely different. Provincial museums come in multitudes to buy Moscow artists, all trying to meet me, ignoring Falk no longer. Groups - for I don't have room to fit their entire staff at once - from the Tretyakov Gallery (with a new building in mind) come to do a thorough study of Falk's works.. <...> Antonioni (yes, that Antonioni, the Italian film director) has already visited me, and I expect him again today. There have also been some physicists; Rumer has arrived - he wants to bring some VIPs to see me. There you have it: “the Falk fashion"! I am not flattered; such interest is rarely genuine. All this tires me, although sometimes it is interesting."
Undoubtedly, the growing attention to Falk's work was also associated with the 1974 publication of the first monograph about him, written by Dmitri Sarabi- anov and published in the German Democratic Republic in a German translation. “In the Soviet Union, it wasn't possible to publish a book dedicated to the work of this artist, who was virtually forbidden at that time." Although, in the German edition, the text of the monograph was published in a considerably abridged form, its album section contained many high-quality reproductions of the artist's works and documentary photographs, most of which were published for the first time. This gave a rare opportunity to those who did not speak German but were interested in Falk's art to get an idea of his work. A large amount of work on the first monograph was done in the 1960s, after Sarabianov concluded an agreement with the Soviet Artist publishing house. “But when he presented the finished text to the publisher," Elena Murina recalls, “it was rejected - I don't remember by whom, but I think it was the all-powerful academician Vladimir Kemenov. <...> The complete Russian text came out only in 2006, along with a complete catalogue of paintings by Robert Falk, compiled by Yulia Didenko. In any other country, dozens of books and articles would have long ago been published about an artist of such rank."
- The exhibition showcased 80 paintings and about 100 drawings. The curator was Elena Basner. Falk’s daughter, Kirilla Baranovskaya-Falk, was present at the grand opening.
- Dmitri Sarabianov. Falk’s poetry // Dmitri Sarabianov. Russian art. The Awakening of Memory, Moscow, 1998. (Library of Iskusstvoznanie (Art History) magazine).
- Victor Markovich Midler (1888-1979) was a painter, graphic artist and museum employee.
- Victor Midler. On Robert Falk’s exhibition; citations from “Supporting materials of Robert Falk’s exhibition”, 1924 //Tretyakov Gallery manuscript department, F.8 II. Item 59. Sheet 1.
- Ibid. Sheet 1 reverse
- Citation from: “In Search of the Essence of Art (the Letters of Robert Falk to Sergei Durylin)” / published by M.A. Rashkovsky // Meetings with the Past. Issue 6. Moscow, 1988. P. 175.
- TSEKUBU was the abbreviation (in Russian) for the Central Commission for the Improvement of Conditions for Science under the Council of People’s Commissars of the RFSFR.
- Khvoynik, I. ‘At the Exhibitions’ // “Izvestiya”, March 16, 1927.
- From a letter from Robert Falk to L. Layzerov. March 1929. Paris-Moscow. // Department of Manuscripts, Tretyakov Gallery. Folio 4, Item 1502, Sheet 1, 1 reverse.
- It is possible that its other name was Galerie Van Leer, in reference to its owner.
- Cited from: Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. “A Monologue about Falk”: [inter- view/materials prepared by I. Smirnova] // “Soviet Culture”. 1989.8 April. P.9.
- Letter (message) from Falk to Aleksander Gerasimov. April 19, 1939. Autograph. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 2943. Opus 1. Item 212 (Materials for MOSSKh Secretariat)
- Cited from: Opinions at Discussions of Robert Falk’s Exhibitions. 1939, 1943. Verbatim record and notes by A.V.Shchekin-Krotova. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Op. 1. Item 133.
- Cited from: Dmitri Sarabianov, Robert Falk’s Paintings. // Dmitri Sarabianov, Yulia Didenko, Robert Falk’s Paintings. Full catalogue of works, Moscow, 2006. p 34.
- Sysoev P.M. (1906-1998), art critic, full member of the USSR Academy of Arts (1953), Honoured Artist of the RSFSR, Candidate of Art History (1949), worked for the Arts Committee 1941-1954.
- Lebedev P.I. (1904-1981), Soviet party member and statesman, chairman of the Arts Committee under the Council of Ministers of the USSR (1948-1951), director of the Tretyakov Gallery (1939-1941, 1954-1979).
- The painting in question is “Before the Snow. Sofrino” (1945), which later became an addition to the collection of Leningrad art collector Aleksander Ramm.
- Cited from: Angelina Schshekin-Krotova “My Falk” / compiled by Yulia Didenko, Anatoly Emdin; introduction article by Dmitri Sarabianov. Moscow, 2005, pp. 118-119.
- Robert Falk’s appeal to the Presidium of the Moscow Union of Soviet artists. Draft. [November-December 1956]. Typewritten. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 2. Item 92. Sheet 70-71.
- Cited from: Angelina Shchekin- Krotova. “My Falk”. P. 234-235.
- Today, this building is one of the exhibition locations of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.
- Ilya Ehrenburg, “People, years, life”. Books three and four, Moscow, 1963. Pp. 488- 489.
- From Nadezhda Mandelstam’s letter to Robert Falk. June 7 [1958. Cheboksary] - Moscow. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1, Item 177; cited from: “Here the artist speaks to his world” - two letters from N.Ya. Mandelstam to R.R. Falk; introductions and comments by A.D. Sara- bianov. “Let’s See Who is More Stubborn”: Nadezhda Mandelstam in letters, memoirs and accounts. Compiled by P.M. Nerler. Moscow, 2015. P. 193.
- From Tatiana Litvinova’s letter to Robert Falk. June 8, 1958.Golitsyno-Moscow. // The Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Unit 176. Sheet 4. Tatiana Maximovna Litvinova (1918-2011) was the daughter of the Foreign Commissar of the USSR Maxim Litvinov and an Englishwoman, the writer Ivy Low Litvinov, and the wife of the sculptor Ilya Slonim.
- Kostin, Vladimir. Shadowed Art Festival (about the exhibition dedicated to the 30th anniversary of Moscow Artists’ Union). 1989. No. 8. Pp. 21, 23.
- Stanislava Lavrentievna Osipovich (1892 to late 1970s), life model, artists’ muse (1910-1920s). Osipovich sat for Sergei Konenkov (for the sculptures “Little Mermaid”, “Autumn”, “Dawn”, and “Bather” 19161917), Pyotr Konchalovsky (“Model by the Stove”, 1917), Aleksander Osmer- kin (“Naked with a Blue Basin”, 1922) and many other painters.
- Shchekin-Krotova, A.V. Lyrical Commentaries on Exhibition of Robert Falk. Late 1980s. Typewritten. Private archive, Moscow.
- Cited from: Vasilyeva, Zh. Two Fates Reflected. “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”. 2010. No. 207. September 15. (https://rg.ru/2010/09/15/artarm.html).
- Shchekin-Krotova A.V. Talent, faith and courage: [about the artist Peter Valyus] // “The Evening Kazan”. February 26, 1988. (link: http://www.vp-valius.narod.ru/PVmuseum/Cat-Pjotr/05article_cat_Pjotr/06Falk.htm ).
- Mikhail Yanovich Makarenko (took his wife’s last name, nee Khershkovich, 1931-2007) - restoration artist, collector, gallery owner, director of an art gallery in the House of Scientists of Akademgorodok in Novosibirsk.
- Robert Falk. Picture gallery. Akademgorodok, Siberian Department, Academy of Sciences of the USSR, House of Scientists. Introduction by Ilya Ehrenburg. Novosibirsk, 1967.
- Unfortunately, the curator made some mistakes when selecting the works, revealed by Shchekin-Krotova on her arrival in Novosibirsk: her copy of the catalogue had marks against the works “Nos. 20,21, 72 and 76 which on no account are Falk’s paintings”. These works were not displayed on the exhibition.
- Inga Rudolfovna Teder (born 1931), museum specialist, art critic and pedagogue. In 1961, Director for Research, in 19661991, Director of the Tallinn Art Museum.
- “Robert Rafailovich Falk (18861958)” / introduction by Nina Khaderi. Alma-Ata, 1969.
- Cited from: Angelina Shchekin- Krotova. “A Monologue about Falk”: [interview/materials prepared by I. Smirnova] // “Soviet culture”. 1989.8 April. P.9
- Vasily Alekseevich Pushkarev (1915-2002), art expert, collector, director of the Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, in 1951-1977.
- According to documents, in 1967, nine years after the artist’s death, the Russian Museum purchased the painting “Old Ruza” (1913) from A.V. Shchekin-Krotova.
- This refers to the painting “Portrait of Lucia Semyonovna Livshits-Yumasheva” (1944. Oil on canvas. Collection of Yuri Nosov, Moscow). L.S. Yumasheva (nee Livshits), ballet dancer, second wife of the pilot A.B. Yumashev.
- Cited from: Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. “A Monologue about Falk”: [interview/materials prepared by I. Smirnova] // “Soviet culture”. 1989.8 April. P.9.
- The guest book for Robert Falk’s exhibition at the Moscow Union of Artists (October - November 1966). Autograph // Russian State Literature and Art Archive. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Unit 277. Sheet 4.
- The texts of questionnaires were combined into a single typewritten version consisting of 108 sheets (Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 2. Item 121), compiled by A.V. Shchekin-Krotova and supplemented with her introduction: “This survey was made up by the exhibition commission on the initiative of the artist Valentin Polyakov. The survey was offered to visitors in the last few days of the exhibition”.
- See: Yuri Gerchuk. ‘Rush of blood to the head’ at the Artist’s Union, or Khrushchev at the Manege. Moscow, 2008. P.9.
- Cited from the guest book for Robert Falk’s exhibition at the Moscow Union of Artists (October - November 1966). Original // Russian State Literature and Art Archive. Fund. 3018. Opus 1. Unit 277.
- Shchekin-Krotova A.V. Friendship with the Artist // “Recollections about Ilya Ehrenburg”. Moscow, 1975. P. 232-233.
- Boris Slutsky. ‘At the exhibition of the artist Robert Falk’. [1966. Moscow]. Typewritten. The article was originally published in Yiddish in the magazine “Sovetish Heymland” (Soviet Homeland) was translated [anonymously] to Russian, 1967. №6. P.112 // Russian State Archive of Literature and Art: F.3018. Opus 1. Unit 240. Sheet 25-27. Shchekin-Krotova writes in her commentary: “Unfortunately, Slutsky’s own text wasn’t preserved.”
- Cited from the guest book for Falk’s exhibition at the Moscow Union of Artists (October - November 1966). Autograph // Russian State Union of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Unit 277. Sheet 4 (rev).
- Cited from: Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. “A Monologue about Falk”: [inter- view/materials prepared by I. Smirnova] // “Soviet Culture”. 1989. 8 April. P.9.
- Cited from: Shalamov, V.T. “New Book: memories, records, correspondence, investigation cases” / Compiled by I.P. Sirotinsky. Moscow, 2004. P. 309.
- Cited from Dmitri Golubkov. “It happened not at all in Italy...” Izbornik/ compilation by M. Golubkova. M., 2013. p. 388. Dmitri Nikolaevich Golubkov (1930-1972) was a Moscow poet, writer, artist, senior editor at the poetry department of the publishing house “Soviet Writer”.
- Elena Borisovna Murina (born 1925), art historian, author of monographs on the art of Russian and international artists (Paul Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, A.V. Lentulov, A.T. Matveev), wife of Dmitri Sarabianov.
- Aleksander Samuilovich Pasternak (1931 -2012) was a painter, graphic artist, set designer.
- Yuri Kuper (born in 1940 into a family under the surname of Kuperman) is a painter, graphic artist, illustrator, set designer, writer.
- The exhibition was held in October and November of 1966.
- The mention is of the legendary “30 years of Moscow Soviet Artists Union” anniversary exhibition that opened in Moscow’s central exhibition hall, the Manege, on November 9, 1962. Almost a month after the opening, on December 1, 1962, Nikita Khrushchev made an appearance at the exhibition, not only tearing the young artists to pieces, but also spitting harsh criticism over the works of Falk who had died four years previously.
- The painting was “Nude in an Armchair” (1922), which is, today, a part of the Tretyakov Gallery collection.
- From Elena Murina’s unpublished interview. June 19, 2018. The idea and the performance of the interview, the transcript and text editing by Yulia Didenko. The video recording is stored at the Photographic Information Department of the State Tretyakov Gallery.
- From Moses Kunin’s letter to Shchekin-Krotova. January 4, 1967. Leningrad - Moscow. Autograph //Russian State Fund of Literature and Art. F.3018. Opus 2. Unit 287. Sheet 2.
- Ibid. Moses Abramovich Kunin (1897-1972), painter, circus and stage performer. Apprenticed with Mark Chagall, Kazimir Malevich, Robert Falk.
- In 1974, two paintings by Falk of the “Knave of Diamonds” period arrived at the National Gallery in Prague through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR - “Landscape with a Dog” (1910) and “Bottles by the Window. (Singing bottles)” (1917).
- From Shchekin-Krotova’s letter to Yuri Rumer. 1967. Autograph (typewritten). SB RAS archive.
- Yuri Borisovich Rumer (1901-1985) was a theoretical physicist. Corresponded with Shchekin-Krotova (two of her letters to him are in the archive of the Siberian department of the Russian Academy of Sciences.)
- From a letter Shchekin-Krotova to Dina Zolotarevskaya. July 22, 1975. Moscow - Svetlogorsk. Autograph. Addressee’s archive, Moscow; cited from: Zolotarevskaya Dina. “The Teacher and her friends: Angelina Vasilievna Shchekin-Krotova”. M., 2020. p.176.
- Dmitri Vladimirovich Sarabianov (1923-2013) was an art historian, teacher, and poet.
- Sarabjanow, Dmitri. “Robert Falk / mit einer Dokumentation, Briefen, Geschprachen, Lektionen des Kunstlers und einer biographischen Ubersicht, herausgegeben von A.W. Stschekin-Krotowa”. Dresden: VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1974.
- “The text of the monograph was compressed into a quarter of itself, and a short version in Russian was intended for publication in the book “Robert Falk. Discussions on art. Letters. Remembrances of the artist”, published in 1981 by the “Soviet Artist” publishing house, however, perhaps because of a high probability of trouble, the then management of the publishing house refused to include it altogether. Even at that time, a positive (although at the same time quite objective) assessment of the artist’s work would appear apologetic”(cited from: Dmitri Sarabianov “Robert Falk’s Paintings” // Dmitri Sarabianov, Yulia Didenko. “Robert Falk’s Paintings, Complete catalogue of works”, Moscow, 2006, p. 34).
- Vladimir Kemenov (1908 - 1988) - art critic, statesman, Vice-President of the Soviet Academy of Arts (since 1966).
- Cited from: Elena Murina. “On art and art history”. SPb: Novikov Publishing house, 2020, p. 42.
Oil on canvas. 60 × 72 cm. Private collection
Private archive, Moscow
Lead pencil on paper. Location unknown
© Tretyakov Gallery
Private archive, Moscow
© Russian State Archive of Literature and Art
Private archive, Moscow
Photo: Jerzy Kucharski. Archive of Jerzy Kucharski, Moscow
Photograph. Private archive, Moscow
Private archive, Moscow
Oil on canvas.118.5 × 84 cm
Vladimir Nekrasov Collection, Moscow
Oil on canvas. 115 × 90 cm
© Yaroslavl Art Museum
Oil on canvas. 87 × 98.8 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Private archive, Moscow
Left to right: G. Goncharuk, G. Leskova, P. Alekseenko (far right). Yerevan, 1965
Photo: E. Goncharuk
Peter Alekseenko’s archive, Belgorod
In front of Falk’s “Self-portrait with an African Sculpture” (1931). Photograph
Watercolour, gouache on paper. 37.5 × 46 cm
Elena Murina Collection, Moscow
Watercolour, gouache on paper. 54 × 44 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery